Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands
Bernhard was a charismatic and popular figure among the majority of the Dutch people for his service as a pilot during World War II and his efforts at rebuilding the war-torn nation afterwards. The German-born prince helped found the World Wildlife Fund, becoming its first president in 1961. He also served as a protector of the Mars & Merkurius , a European club to promote connections between the military and the business elite, and helped organise the Bilderberg Group.
Bernhard was born Count Bernhard Leopold Friedrich Eberhard Julius Kurt Karl Gottfried Peter zur Lippe-Biesterfeld in Jena, Germany, the elder son of Prince Bernhard zur Lippe (younger brother of the reigning Prince of Lippe) and Baroness Armgard von Sierstorpff-Cramm . Because the marriage of his parents did not conform with the marriage laws of the House of Lippe, Bernhard was only born with the title of "count". In 1911 the Reigning Prince of Lippe Leopold IV, gave Bernhard the title of "Prince zur Lippe-Biesterfeld".
After World War I, Bernhard's father lost his German principality and the revenue that came with it. Bernhard spent his early years at Reckenwalde, the family's new estate in East Prussia (now Woynovo in Poland ), near the city of Züllichau (Sulechow ). He received his early education at home. When he was twelve, he was sent to board at the gymnasium in Züllichau and several years later to board at a gymnasium in Berlin, from where he graduated in 1929.
Bernhard then studied law at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and in Berlin, where he acquired a taste for fast cars, horse riding, and big-game hunting safaris. He was reckless and was nearly killed in a boating accident and an airplane crash, and he suffered a broken neck and crushed ribs in a 160 km/h (100 mi/h) car crash. .
Entry into the House of Orange
In the 1930s, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, Prince Bernhard's younger brother Aschwin publicly declared his support for the Nazi Party. Prince Bernhard was trained as a fighter pilot and was later made an officer of the German Reiter SS Corps. The Prince eventually went to work for the German chemical company, IG Farben. After a period of training, he became Secretary to the Board of Directors at the Paris office in 1935. Because he was a Protestant and a Royal, Bernhard was acceptable by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands as a suitable husband for her daughter, Princess Juliana. However, Bernhard's appropriateness as the consort of the future Queen would later become a matter of public debate.
Prince Bernhard's political insensitivities in the Netherlands distanced him from the Dutch people at a time when tensions were high and another war in Europe seemed almost certain. First, traveling to the Reich's Chancellery, he met personally with Adolf Hitler who had publicly insinuated that the marriage of the German Prince to the future Queen of the Netherlands was a sign of an alliance between the two nations. Then, for several days leading up to his marriage to Princess Juliana on January 7, 1937, Prince Bernhard entertained SS officer Langenheim in the Dutch royal palace. The Prince provided the SS representative with an assessment of the political situation in the Netherlands and the role of the Dutch Nazi Party, all of which was reported back in detail to the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Whether Bernhard in doing so consciously acted against Dutch interests is a question for debate.
World War II
However, Prince Bernhard began to redeem himself in the eyes of the Dutch people at the outset of World War II. During the German Invasion, the Prince, carrying a machine gun, organised the palace guards into a combat group that managed to expel the German paratroopers from the palace grounds, so allowing for the royal family to flee the Netherlands and take refuge in England. Once safely there, Princess Juliana and the children then went on to Canada, where they remained until the end of the war.
In England, Prince Bernhard asked to work in British Intelligence but the War Admiralty, and later General Eisenhower's Allied Command offices, did not trust him sufficiently to allow him access to intelligence information. However, on the recommendation of King George VI, he was later permitted to work in the war planning councils.
By 1944, Prince Bernhard became commander of the Dutch armed forces. After the liberation of the Netherlands, he returned with his family where he became active in the negotiations for the German surrender. He was present during the armistice negotiations and German surrender in Hotel de Wereld ("The World Hotel") in Wageningen (in The Netherlands) on May 5, 1945. However, he outraged the Dutch when he declared that he felt sorry for the German General Blaskowitz, later charged with war crimes, who was responsible for the Nazi surrender in the Netherlands. Such matters, plus a much more regal attitude than the unpretentious Princess Juliana, prevented the Prince from becoming genuinely liked by the Dutch, but he won some respect for his hard work in helping to reinvigorate the economy of the Netherlands in post-war years.
Prince Bernhard became a member of the councils of all branches of the Netherlands military and was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was made a director of Fokker Aircraft, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and within a few years was invited to serve on the board of directors of numerous international corporations. After a 1952 trip with Queen Juliana to the United States, Prince Bernhard was heralded by the media as a business ambassador extraordinaire for the Netherlands. With his global contacts, in May of 1954 he was a key figure in organizing a meeting at the Bilderberg Hotel in the Netherlands for the male-only business elite and intellectuals of the Western World to discuss the economic problems in the face of the then growing threat from communism. As a result of the success of this first meeting, it would become an annual affair known as the Bilderberg Group. The idea for the European Union, first proposed by Robert Schuman on May 9 1950, was encouraged at Bilderberg.
Though generally not reported in the Dutch press, growing strain arose between Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard during this time. The jet-setting Bernard used his many absences from the country to carry on numerous affairs, while throwing lavish parties at the various Dutch embassies.
Prince Bernard was a very outspoken person, who often flaunted protocol by making personal remarks on subjects he felt deeply for. Almost till his last day he has called for more recognition for the Polish WWII veterans, who played such an important role in the liberation of the Netherlands.
After the annual liberation day parade, on 5th May, it was announced that considering the age of the remaining veterans, next year would be the last parade. It was not to be so for the commander himself. During his last parade he protested against the decision to issue all Dutch troops with (dark) green berets instead of the usual brown ones, he thought it was an insult for the commandoes who worked hard to earn theirs. So, instead of his black veteran's beret, he wore his old green one.
Although he had once been an avid big-game hunter, Prince Bernhard's most lasting contribution to humanity came in 1961 when he played a role in the founding of the World Wildlife Fund, in recognition for the need for conservation. The fund would become one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations. In the past 40 years the World Wildlife Fund has invested over a billion dollars in 11,000 projects in 130 countries. Prince Bernhard remained a dedicated advocate of wildlife conservation all his life.
By the 1970s, Prince Bernhard served on more than 300 corporate boards or committees worldwide and was loudly praised in the Netherlands for his very active efforts to promote the economic well-being of the country. But scandal rocked the Royal family in 1976 when it was revealed that Prince Bernhard had accepted a US$1.1 million bribe from U.S. aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed Corporation to influence the Dutch government's purchase of fighter aircraft. Prime minister of the Netherlands Joop den Uyl ordered an inquiry into the affair while Prince Bernhard was refusing to answer reporters' questions, stating: "I am above such things." The Dutch and international press headlined the stories for months, showing proof of Prince Bernhard's German SS participation and his numerous extra-marital affairs, including the purchase of a luxurious Paris apartment for his mistress Helene Grinda , with whom he had one illegitimate daughter: Alexia. (Bernhard has a second illegitimate daughter, Alicia, in the USA.)
Further evidence came to light of the Prince having been deeply involved with Tibor Rosenbaum , the Swiss banker and front man for Mafia financier Meyer Lansky. To make things worse, it was revealed that the Prince had also been involved in business dealings with Robert Vesco who had been a frequent guest at the Royal Palace. Vesco used an Amsterdam mailing address while committing the largest single fraud ever, stealing more than US$220 million from a Swiss based company, Investors Overseas Services Ltd.
On August 26, 1976, a toned down, but nonetheless devastating, report on Prince Bernhard's activities was released to a shocked Dutch public. The Prince's own letter in 1974 to Lockheed Corporation that demanded "commissions" be paid to him on Dutch government aircraft purchases was one of the most damaging documents in a mountain of evidence. The investigations also revealed other serious actions by the Prince, including arranging to pay more than a million dollars in bribes to Juan Peron of Argentina in exchange for Argentina buying new railroad equipment from the Netherlands. Criminal charges were not laid by the government due to threats by Queen Juliana that she would abdicate if her husband was prosecuted.
Prince Bernhard resigned his various high profile positions in many businesses, charities, and other institutions and in return the States-General voted against criminal prosecution. He turned over presidency of the international World Wildlife Fund to the British prince Philip. The Dutch Royal family worked hard to rehabilitate the Prince's name, but another scandal was to be revealed.
In 1988, Prince Bernhard and Princess Juliana sold two paintings from their personal collection to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund. The paintings sold for GBP700 000, which was deposited in a Swiss WWF bank account. In 1989, however, Charles de Haes , director-general of the WWF, transferred GBP500 000 back to Bernhard, for what de Haes called a private project. In 1991, newspapers reported what this private project was: Prince Bernhard had hired mercenaries - mostly British - to fight against poachers in wildlife reserves. The paramilitary organisation had infiltrated in organisations that profiting from illegal trade in ivory, in order to roll them up.
This 'Project Lock ', as it was called, seemed to have backfired enormously, however. The "private army" of Bernhard had not only infiltrated in the illegal trade, they were also participating in it. To make things worse, Irish reporter Kevin Dowling discovered that the South-African army was also involved in the trade, hinting at connections between the army of Bernhard and the WWF and the struggle for maintaining apartheid. Moreover, he claimed members of the South-African run counterinsurgency unit Koevoet (Afrikaans for "crowbar"), responsible for the Boipatong massacre in 1992, were trained under Project Lock.
In 1995, Nelson Mandela called upon the Kumleben Commission to investigate, among other things, the role of the WWF in apartheid South-Africa. In the report that followed, it was suggested that mercenaries from Project Lock had been planning assassinations of ANC members and that mercenaries had been running training camps in the wildlife reserves, training fighters from the terrorist groups UNITA and Renamo. Although Prince Bernhard was never accused of any crime in its context, the Project Lock scandal dealt another damaging blow to the Prince's name.
In an interview published after his death, Prince Bernard admitted that he had accepted more than one million dollars (US) in bribes from Lockheed. He also admitted to having fathered two illegitimate daughters in the years following his marriage. 
Prince Bernhard died of cancer at the age of 93 in an Utrecht hospital (the Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht - University of Utrecht Medical Centre) on 1 December, 2004; until his death he suffered from malignant lung and intestinal tumours. On December 11 he was interred at Nieuwe Kerk, Delft. Bernhard's funeral was different form those of Claus and Juliana in the manner that Bernhard's coffin was transported on the undercarriage of a cannon instead of in the traditional carriage used when the coffins of Claus and Juliana were transported to Delft. Together with the playing of many military marches and the forming of guards of honour by Second World War veterans this gave the funeral procession a military character as the late prince, who was regarded as a Second World War veteran himself, had wished. As a final tribute to his former military role in the Netherlands Air Force 3 modern F-16 and a World War II Spitfire performed a low fly-by during the funeral in a classic Missing man formation.
- Dutch Royal House official website
- The World Wildlife Fund website
- Official site of the Dutch Royal House
- Official memorial
- Article about Prince Bernhard during WWII on Go2War2 (Dutch)
- The Mars en Mercurius website
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